How can Christianity compete in a world that offers up so many promises and ways to escape? Can a life of discipleship really compete with the endless stream of distractions that bombard us daily? So many promises at such a low low price.
I confess: After work or after church, sometimes I do go to Burger King just so I can “have it your way.” I mean, my way.
We live in a culture that exploits the very meaninglessness it produces. I’m not trying to be negative or pessimistic, here. Just honest. I know so many who are secretly lonely, struggling with depression, or unable to accept who they have to be in a world where you have to pay to play. While we’re being told our potential is unlimited, we’re forced to play the game. We give ourselves and energies to so many demands and projects – which carry some reward of success and accomplishment. Secretly, we have to take the paycheck to pay down our debt, which paid for the house or the education or credit cards that buy back our self-worth and sense of self-esteem.
How is Jesus’ cross meaningful in a world like this?
One mistake we make is to let the cross become less and less real and more and more spiritual. Christianity becomes a message we tell ourselves to stave off the feelings we really feel or what others are saying. Everything is fine. God is good. Grace abounds. No big deal. I’m OK. Praise God?
Stop to think that we live in a world that can even profit on widespread depression. In this kind of world, belief in Jesus can also become something its not. It can quickly become something else that wards off the emptiness we accumulate by selling ourselves to a world that is supposed to value us so highly. This is a world where you have to live for yourself in order to be anybody…or do anything. When its at its worst, like Tylenol, Jesus on the cross becomes something we swallow to take away the pain of feeling insignificant or guilty.
If this is all Christianity is, there are better alternatives.
Just turn on the TV.
Christianity tells a story about suffering. The suffering of God. You might see why this isn’t so popular. Or, perhaps it is, because someone else is doing the suffering. What sense can this story make to us in the “free world?” A free world almost “free” of anything long-lasting, but where everything has a price?
What’s the meaning of the story of a God-man, a Rabbi born a carpenter, who was driven out of church by church folk? What does it mean that religious leaders, the ones who had the most to loose from seeing things his way, wanted him dead? What, possibly, could this guy have been teaching? What’s the meaning of the God-man and his suffering?
You know. You have to be a Christian to even care about this story. Either that, or you have to care about the meaning of suffering. Or, perhaps this is what is universal about it, you have to at least know your suffering. Once you’ve felt this, you care about the suffering of others. Perhaps, you have to suffer to really appreciate what anothers suffering might mean. Even the God-man’s.
So, what’s the point of this? I’m raising questions, that don’t have shallow or easy answers. At least, I dont’ think they do. These questions also hold the key to something hopeful and life-giving. They hold untold meaning. The questions are more healing and productive than closing them up with simple answers. But, at the same time, what makes for faith doesn’t have to be complicated. Christianity, I think, thrives amidst people who know struggle because suffering reveals something about the universe that nothing else can. it calls for faith precisely where life’s depth intersects with its simplicity.
The cross calls out for the end of all suffering.
Now, do you believe it?
On the cross, God’s justice and love speak their final word into a world that profits on its own meaninglessness, that entraps us in our own need to escape it, and is dizzying with its attractive alternatives and technical distractions. Despite the way some seem to think, in this environment the cross doesn’t point us to a new and improved doctrine of self-righteousness. “Biblical” religion does not thrive on its own righteousness and people’s shame.
To that, I offer a biblical Christianity where love and grace are one in the same.
This is what I think: To open our eyes to see and ears to hear, without numbness or distraction; to open ourselves to our own persistent loneliness, our own sense of helplessness or depression; to feel our need for either closeness or escape; to see our dependence on distractions; to open ourselves up to our own suffering, we open ourselves to a whole new world – one in need of a savior.
Once you’re there, in the bottomless space of a moment of suffering, you know the simplicity of a deep faith. You are never again alone in the story. You know why he came. You know why we, the religious people, ran him off. You know why those who benefited from the way things were wanted him dead. You know why, by constantly changing, things can still remain the same.
Christianity can’t compete. Enemies and opposition are good for politics. Formulaic faith, both judgmental self-righteous versions and guilt-free spirituality, make for excellent religion. They fit well with what we need. Meaningless is a demanding, but profitable business.
But, love and justice, who needs that?